Harassment claim dismissed regarding comment about supporting IS

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in the case of Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Ltd t/a Stage Coach Manchester that a Muslim employee was not subjected to harassment related to religion when another employee asked him whether he ‘still supported Islamic State’ (IS).

The claimant, a Muslim man of Moroccan origin who worked for the respondent, had read an article by a German journalist about IS fighters. The claimant relayed the report to a colleague, and the fact that the comments within the article were of a positive nature, stating that IS were very good fighters and managed to run the country.

A few days after this conversation, the other employee asked the claimant “are you still promoting IS?”.  The claimant was upset by this question and a heated dispute between the pair ensued, resulting in the claimant being dismissed for gross misconduct because of his aggressive response.

The claimant then brought claims of direct discrimination because of religion or race, and for harassment related to religion or race, based on the other employee’s comment about IS.

The claimant’s claims of both direct discrimination and harassment were dismissed by the employment tribunal. The tribunal held in relation to direct discrimination, that the comment made by the other employee was made as a result of his conversation with the claimant, and not because of the claimant’s religion or race. The harassment claim also failed as the tribunal concluded that the comment was not ‘related’ to religion or race for the same reason as the direct discrimination claim.

The claimant appealed the harassment finding to the EAT saying that the tribunal had incorrectly decided that the comment was not ‘related’ to religion or race.  However, the EAT dismissed the appeal on the basis that the employment tribunal had properly taken into account the context in which the offending words were spoken.  It said that while another tribunal may have reached a different outcome, the tribunal in this case applied the law correctly and there was no error in its decision.

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